Star Wars: Analyzing the Female Characters of Rogue One
Rogue One's Jyn Erso is the newest female hero in Star Wars. How did Rogue One fare in its portrayal of women?
This Star Wars: Rogue One article contains spoilers.
Jyn Erso leads the charge in Rogue One, but most of her compatriots are male. Like the Star Wars Original Trilogy, Rogue One heavily populates the Rebel Alliance with men. There are a few female pilots in the hangars on Yavin and flying over Scarif – pilots like the ones who were cut out or dubbed over in Return of the Jedi – and others, mostly aliens, scattered among the crowds.
This gender ratio continues the pattern Star Wars has often followed. The films show one female character in a group of men, leaving Leia, Padmé, or Jyn to shoulder the burden of representing her entire gender. This is disheartening for a number of reasons, and continued to be disheartening in Rogue One. Even though Jyn is strong, she’s also representative of only one way to be a woman in Star Wars – examples of which could be much more varied.
Rogue One offers Mon Mothma in a position of leadership, as well as several female side characters, but they still don’t offer a lot of variety. Where are the women wo are nervous and tech-savvy like Bodhi Rook, or muscular and heavily armed like Baze Malbus? Making just one other character on the main team female could have made the team even more varied.
The film does a good job of showing racial diversity among its characters, including Diego Luna with his natural accent as Cassian Andor and Donnie Yen as Chirrut Imwe. The number of white women in the Star Wars films still vastly outnumber the women of color, though, and adding more women of color to the team would have contributed to Rogue One‘s quiet but integral message of the strength of a diverse team.
Adding more racial diversity and putting women in positions of power, as Rogue One has done with Jyn Erso and Mon Mothma, and as The Force Awakens did with Rey, is important in order to help more fans see themselves in the characters on screen. However, in fiction, this kind of progress doesn’t have to be incremental. Adding more women in crowd scenes and as background characters, even a small percentage, is an easy way to add diversity. Rogue One made an effort, but it’s still taking baby steps, presenting Jyn and Mon Mothma as outliers in a world primarily populated by men.
In order to appreciate the female characters on screen – and look forward to future lists like this one being longer – here’s a look at the women of Rogue One:
The fulcrum for all of the Rogue One squad’s activities is Jyn Erso, daughter of Galen Erso. Her biological relation to the Death Star designer is a source of some angst for the younger Erso, who sees Saw Gerrera as more of a father figure than she does Galen. Although she’s the only woman in her squad, she isn’t portrayed as different or less interesting because of her gender – Jyn has to make important decisions about how to deal with her relationship with the Rebellion and her father. She also isn’t sexualized, wearing the same type of drab uniform as the rest of the crew.
Jyn led a life of crime before she was picked up by the Rebellion. Like her father, she wanted to join neither side of the war. She also felt that she didn’t have “the luxury of political opinions.” After her father is killed, she feels a renewed spark – she wants to fight the Empire, and she’ll go against the will of the Rebel Alliance council in order to do it. Jyn rebels against both sides, and contributes to the Rebellion’s ultimate victory.
She’s also significant in that she is more down to Earth than classic Star Wars women. Unlike Leia and Padmé, she isn’t royalty or groomed for success. Jyn is a woman in a post-Rey world, earthy and relatable, but more angry than Rey, less obliged to become involved with the political fight she finds herself falling into. Jyn’s choices are inspired by the men in her life – Cassian and Galen particularly – while she rebels against Mon Mothma’s wishes.
Jyn clearly treasures the necklace she got from Lyra, since she still wears it so many years later, but that is the extent of the mother-daughter relationship. Jyn is never shown forming a friendship with any other women. Having another female member of the team might have served as a good example for the female friendship we see quite rarely in Star Wars.
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Lyra’s part in Rogue One is small but critical. Told to escape with Jyn when Krennic arrives to take Galen away during the very early days of the Empire, Lyra instead chooses to fight. She stands up for herself, but is killed in the process, leaving Jyn with only a kyber crystal necklace and memories of a woman devoted to the Force. Jyn’s memories of Lyra might also have contribtuted to the interest Jyn had in Chirrut Imwe when she first met him. Here was another person attuned to the Force, who knew that the kyber crystal on Jyn’s necklace was important.
More can be learned about Lyra in the prequel novel Catalyst, in which she keeps the Erso family together even as Krennic is trying to tear it apart. She falls completely into the “dead parent” trope in the movie, but has a bit more power in the novel. Catalyst makes a better effort to give Lyra more characterization and more agency. She never trusts Krennic as much as Galen does, and maintains her own personality and her own interests – in exploration and in the Jedi – throughout the novel.
In fact, in early drafts of the movie, Lyra Erso was supposed to be a Jedi herself. While it would have been cool to see another female Jedi, Rogue One is ultimately the story of a world where the Jedi have fallen, and having a character in the background who carried on that legacy would have been distracting at best and confusing at worst. Fans are already searching for a connection between the Erso family and the Force-sensitive Rey, so making Lyra a Jedi might have muddled that matter even further. As it is, Lyra has a pretty unique role of her own as an explorer and wilderness guide – but is ultimately overshadowed by Galen’s work on the Death Star.
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The Rebellion’s co-founder and one of its most high-ranking members, Mon Mothma is the Rebel authority to which Jyn must ultimately answer. In Rogue One, she works with Bail Organa to organize the resistance movement. Although she is stationed at the Rebel headquarters on Yavin 4 with the movement’s military branch, Mothma believes that if peace is the ultimate goal of the movement, peace must factor into their strategy. She wants to fight the Empire in the Senate, unaware that the Senate will be dissolved in just a matter of days.
That said, when the Empire inevitably falls and the New Republic is formed, Mothma is one of the people who help bring democracy back to the galaxy. She is even elected chancellor of the new government. In her many appearances throughout Star Wars canon, Mothma is a symbol of wisdom and hope. Rogue One further illustrates that.
Actress Genevieve O’Reilly got a second change for the standalone film. She played Mon Mothma in Revenge of the Sith, but her scenes, which directly connected to the formation of the Rebellion, were deleted from the final cut. Bringing Reilly back was a great choice, both because of her resemblance to Return of the Jedi actor Caroline Blakiston and because it brings another female leader into Rogue One. Like the Rebellion itself, Mon Mothma won’t take no for an answer.
Senator Tynnra Pamlo
The second woman on the Rebel Alliance council is Tynnra Pamlo of Taris, a senator who argues against taking the fight to the Empire. She recognizes the great threat that the Death Star poses, but instead of being driven to attack, she sees it as an “ultimatum” the Rebellion must heed. Like several other members of the council, Pamlo suggests that the Rebels retreat, retracting their existing military missions and withdrawing so as not to give the Empire a reason to destroy any more populated cities or planets.
Although perhaps not as brave of a leader as Mon Mothma, Pamlo’s heart is in the right place: with her people. She feels that making such a rash decision might put Taris in danger. In the Legends timeline, Taris was a city-planet over which a large battle was fought thousands of years before the Clone Wars. In canon, Taris is a city littered with wrecked ships from a long-ago battle.
Tynnra Pamlo, played by Sharon Duncan-Brewster, is one of only a few women of color who appear in the Star Wars films. Lupita Nyong’o gave a wonderful performance in The Force Awakens, but was hidden behind Maz Kanata’s computer-generated face. Tynnra still doesn’t have enough characterization or a large enough part to be more than a background character, but her presence is a significant step.
Rebel Pilots and Infantry
The battle of Scarif featured at least three female Rebel soldiers, including X-wing pilots and infantry soldiers. The Rogue One Ultimate Visual Guide identifies one of the soldiers as Corporal Timker, a combat engineer specializing in building trenches and other fortifications for the Rebel’s elite ground troops. Pilots Zal Dinnes (Red Eight) and Laren Joma (Blue Eleven) also help out in the sky over Scarif, and a few soldiers can be seen during the Rebel Alliance council meeting.
There are also a few female characters who are mentioned but never seen. Cassian mentions talking to his contact Tivik’s sister, a member of the rebel group on Jedha, but we never see her in Saw Gerrera’s base. The Rogue One novelization does add a female rebel who recognizes Jyn, as well as several other side characters on Jedha.
Since The Force Awakens, women have been featured in combat roles more often, from female stormtroopers like Captain Phasma to the women storming the beach at Scarif. It goes to show how much more inclusive and diverse Star Wars has become since Return of the Jedi.
Princess Leia Organa
One of the most important women of Rogue One also has the least screen time – but she’s destined for a different movie entirely. Played by Ingvild Diela with a computer-generated face, Princess Leia’s brief appearance gives viewers a bridge between A New Hope and Rogue One, which ends just seconds before the original Star Wars begins. Her message is one of hope and resolve, two things that characterize this leader of the Rebellion perfectly.
Leia’s CG return to the big screen came only days before the death of the great Carrie Fisher, who had recently finished filming her part in Episode VIII. While questions still remain about the future of Fisher’s character in Episode IX, Lucasfilm has made it clear that it will never use CG to resurrect Leia again.
Fisher’s death was a tragic blow to the fan community – and to Hollywood as a whole, especially coming as it did in the middle of such a Star Wars rennaissance. Now more than ever, it’s important to remember one of the many lessons she can teach screenwriters: “make the women smarter.”
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